A HARK vehicle parked in Haines.

A HARK animal control vehicle parked in Haines.

By Emily Files and Jillian Rogers

Haines Borough staff announced last week that they were not able to reach a contract agreement with the Haines Animal Rescue Kennel. The borough says it will no longer use HARK for animal control services. Both parties say they still hope to reach a compromise, but they have different ideas of what that will entail.

Earlier this year, Borough Manager Dave Sosa was looking for ways to deal with a shortfall in the borough budget. One of his recommendations was to eliminate the borough’s $48,000 animal control services contract with HARK and move those responsibilities to the police department.

That proposal drew a negative response from residents and some assembly members. In May, the borough assembly voted to fund the HARK contract using money from the town-site fund balance and from the assembly’s community chest fund, which is used to support nonprofits.

But since then, contract negotiations between the borough and HARK have taken longer than expected. HARK Director Tracy Mikowski says it’s not unusual to go a month without a contract deal. But when it got to be almost three months without an agreement, and therefore no payment, they decided it was too risky to continue services.

They notified the borough, and Mikowski says she expected negotiations to continue.

“We didn’t think that had anything to do with negotiations,” Mikowski said. “So it was a complete surprise to us to find out through a Facebook post that our negotiations had ceased.”

On Friday, the Haines Police Department posted a statement on its Facebook page saying the borough would not use HARK for animal control because they were unable to reach an agreement. That post generated dozens of comments from residents expressing dismay with the borough. But interim police chief Robert Griffiths says that statement was just to notify people that animal control services were temporarily in flux.

“It was merely intended as advice to community that we currently didn’t have any animal control services available, including the availability of a kennel,” Griffiths said. “So that people were aware of it and if  they got a response from dispatch they weren’t happy with, that’s why.”

Mikowski says the reason they had to end services was because their requests to be paid for July and August animal control were denied. In an email statement, Sosa said he told HARK the borough would hold their invoice until they reached a new agreement.

When HARK told the borough Friday that they were suspending animal control services, Sosa says he approved their invoice for payment for the past couple months.

Both Mikowski and Griffiths say they hope to reach an agreement. But while Mikowski hopes that contract will include animal control, Griffiths says the borough has ‘abandoned hope’ that they’ll reach a compromise that includes that service.

Sosa says the next proposal the borough will offer HARK will include a fee-based borough kenneling service and no animal control provisions.

Currently, Griffiths says the police department is ‘responding to each [animal control] incident as dictated.’ He says if there is loose dog and the police can’t determine who the owner is, he’s not sure what they’ll do. They are working to identify alternative kennels.

Mikowski says HARK plans to turn to the assembly ‘for direction.’ She says she wants people to know that HARK is not shutting down, and that they will ‘not abandon the needs of the community.’